Too many SLAPPs. Ossigeno shares the alarm raised by the Calabrian media

OSSIGENO – March 2nd  2022 – This interview was published on March 2nd  2022 by Corriere della Calabria, one of the newspapers published in this Italian sourtern region that on February 25th 2022 spread the collective appeal “Alarm from for the free media”

 Press Freedom: It’s right to raise the alarm in Calabria – The founder and director of “Ossigeno” highlights again the complaint raised by the Corriere and other newspapers on intimidation lawsuits for libel (SLAPPS): “It is no longer time to suffer attacks in silence”

LAMEZIA TERME – “The alarm you have raised is fully justified. Calabria appears to be at the top of the Italian ranking for intimidating actions conducted by aggressive lawsuits for libel”. Alberto Spampinato, journalist, founder and director of “Ossigeno per l’informazione” – the observatory on threatened Italian reporters and on news suppressed through violence – totally shares the initiative promoted by the Corriere della Calabria together with other newspapers, the professional body and the journalists’ union. And Spampinato insists he is ready to subscribe to the campaign, make available the many years of experience of “Ossigeno” and publicise the appeal internationally.

Since 2012 Spampinato has been a consultant to the representative for Media Freedom of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Agcom (the regulator and competition authority for the communication industries in Italy) and the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission for the violations of press freedom committed with violence and abuse.
To defend themselves against the unfounded intimidation lawsuits (SLAPPs), the president of “Ossigeno” invites journalists to denounce publicly the “specious attacks”. “It is no longer time,” he says, “to suffer attacks in silence.” Spampinato has launched an appeal addressed to the Italian Government and Parliament to promote legislative initiatives aimed at modifying the current law on libel defined as “rogue rules”. “They cannot continue to postpone urgent legislative changes, as they have done for over a decade. There is no time to lose.” 

Director, “Ossigeno per l’informazione has been fighting also for some time against vexatious lawsuits. Why in regions like Calabria is this an even more justified battle to wage?

“My collaborators at the Observatory and I have been studying and documenting this dismal phenomenon since 2008. We started when no one wanted to talk about it. To break the silence we have reported on, one after the other, thousands of episodes of threats and intimidation against journalists, overcoming each time the understandable reticence of the victims and the hostility of those who argued that silence was the best answer. From the beginning, Calabria appeared to us the Italian region with the greatest intimidating pressure on media and journalists, conducted with violence, misuse of the law, and lawsuits for alleged libel, used to muzzle newspapers and journalists who publish discomforting news. We gave documentary evidence to the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission in 2012 and then in 2015. In 2022 Calabria is still at the top of the ranking, along with Sicily. And so the alarm raised last Friday in a collegiate way by your newspaper and others seems to us fully justified. It is very important that it was also signed by the professional Order, the trade union and the regional UNCI (the national union of Italian reporters), because this problem is common to journalists and publishers.

It was time for the targets of these absolutely unjustifiable attacks to demonstrate the collective will to repel these unequivocal gags. Reacting collectively is the most effective way of telling the Government and Parliament that they have no alibi, that they cannot continue to postpone urgent legislative changes as they have been doing for over a decade. Nor is the fact that this parliamentary term will end in less than a year a valid justification.  On the contrary, this makes the issue even more urgent because the failure to intervene this time will be judged by the voters. There is no time to lose.”

What tools do journalists and newspapers – often with limited economic resources in these regions – currently possess to defend themselves against this kind of attack?

“The first weapon is the courage of denunciation; it is no longer time to suffer attacks in silence. It is necessary to make them public, diligently, without hollering  but systematically, overcoming that sense of shame that has prevailed so far and that has no reason to exist in the face of spurious attacks. Another weapon is collective solidarity.   We must learn to react publicly even when a competing newspaper is attacked if we do not want to play into the hands of those who isolate their targets one by one in order to hit them better. Another front is that of the judiciary, whose role is complementary. It is true that the rules on libel are “rogue rules” and must be changed immediately but it is also true that in the current system there are deterrents that can be used and yet remain almost always unapplied. The punishment for reckless litigation, the official legal actions for slander for those who have sued or have made criminal accusations by making evidentially false allegations, the application of the aggravating circumstances of the mafia method for numerous physical attacks, and so on. There are many instruments of active defence that can be promoted, even petitioning the collaboration of the most supportive part of the judiciary. At the Ossigeno-Unesco conference of the 3rd November 2021 in Syracuse, Italy, various proposals were presented in addition to that of Federico Cafiero De Raho mentioned in your recent document of the 25th February”.

Have you noticed a greater sensitivity on the part of the political world or at least some section of it, on the subject of reckless lawsuits?

“Yes, some parts are more aware now, more understanding, but not enough. There is still a lack of political will. We have said this repeatedly. This was also said by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatovic, who followed with us the incredible story of bills that at the beginning of each legislature are born well and then, at the end of the legislature, die without being approved. The problem is that the media do not follow these events and do not report them. If a politician approves or does not approve these measures in defence of the freedom of the press, no one loses or gains votes. Mobilizing public opinion can make the difference.”

What measures could limit the effects of reckless lawsuits on press freedom?

“There are already many good proposals in Parliament. One is the one mentioned by Cafiero De Raho. Another recommends that there should be no proceedings against those who publish corrections. Another limits the responsibility of the chief editor for every single word published. “Ossigeno” and the Rome Press Association have proposed introducing the offence of obstructing information for those who deliberately prevent the exercise of the right to report and freedom of expression. There is no shortage of ideas and proposals. The problem is that in the Italian Parliament and among the political parties the prevalent political will is to preserve the status quo or even to exacerbate it, to keep newspapers and journalists “under the rap”.

How can this message be got across to the general public without making it appear as a matter of a “caste”?

“The way is very simple: present the facts of which you are a victim for what they are, publicly defending your reasons when they are right and recognizing mistakes and hosting replies when they are not offensive. In short, using journalism to save journalism. This is how the reader’s trust is won. With this approach “Ossigeno” has succeeded in shining a light on this matter. If all the media did the same, the spotlight would widen and readers would realize for themselves that when a newspaper or a journalist is struck they are prevented from knowing what is happening.”

Can the initiative against lawsuits taken by the Corriere della Calabria together with other newspapers, the professional Order and the Calabrian journalists’ union represent a way to gather support even beyond the region and make the issue a battle to be brought before Parliament?

“I think so, if you set up a long-term campaign, if you keep the goal firm and unite the groups of promoters whilst obviously widening the campaign to those who really share the spirit of the initiative. It is not enough merely to give it a push. Otherwise the risk is to light only a short-lived “straw fire”. I remember that on August 27th 2010, the journalist Matteo Cosenza, then chief editor of the Quotidiano della Calabria, raised a strong alarm against mafia influences. He received huge applause and on September 25th there was a large demonstration in Reggio Calabria. But it ended there.”

What commitment as “Ossigeno per l’informazione” do you feel like making to share this initiative? Is a great mobilization conceivable, perhaps starting from Calabria?

“You can add the signature of ”Ossigeno” to the protest document you have issued. I believe that now, first of all, we need to root the initiative in Calabria. “Ossigeno” will provide its data, experience and specific expertise. “Ossigeno” will also disseminate the appeal internationally, will continue to follow the initiatives of the promoters and will publicly document episodes that prove with the force of the facts the validity of the alarm and the presence of the same phenomenon also in other regions”. (by r.desanto@corrierecal.it)

Read it in Italian

Libertà di stampa. Spampinato: «E’ giusto lanciare l’allarme in Calabria»

ASP

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